Former state Sen. Roger Bedford was laid to rest on Sunday – a dreary, cold day befitting the sad occasion. Bedford meant a lot to the people of northwest Alabama, where he served for decades and was typically talked about in terms reserved for football legends and favored pastors.
While Bedford’s death was a blow to his many friends and family, it was his political end that signified something far more consequential to the state, and maybe the nation: Local politics becoming less important than national talking points and party affiliation.
For nearly three decades, Bedford was the gold standard in political representation for a district. When the folks in his district sent him to the senate each year, they held absolutely no doubts that Bedford would return with piles and piles of money for various projects around his hometown of Russellville, Franklin County and much of northwest Alabama.
Stories of Bedford’s manipulations of his fellow lawmakers are legendary, as were stories of the projects around his districts for which he managed to secure state funding. The working people of Bedford’s district praised him for it, as they enjoyed the benefits of a state senator who made sure the money came home.
I swear to you, these folks used to wear t-shirts around that hailed Bedford as the king of pork. I saw them. Hell, my dad had one. And man, were they were proud of him.
Then, in 2014, without a single thing about Bedford changing, they voted for someone else.
By 70 votes, a local doctor, Larry Stutts, was elected to represent the district.
Did he promise to do more for the district than Bedford? Haha. Please. It would have been literally impossible to do more.
Did Stutts take advantage of the scandals surrounding Bedford? No. The last true scandal involving Bedford had occurred years before, and immediately after it, voters in the district overwhelmingly sent him back to Montgomery. (As a matter of fact, they printed up t-shirts making fun of the scandals, too.)
Well then, Stutts was probably more highly thought of, being a local doctor and all. Pfft. Spare me. To date, I’ve not found a voter who actually likes Stutts, and if there were a few during his 2014 run for office, he likely chased them away with his self-serving antics once in office.
The fact is Larry Stutts beat Roger Bedford because Stutts is a Republican and Bedford was a Democrat.
Never mind the fact that when you get right down to it, Bedford was more relatable to the voters of that district. Never mind the fact that Bedford never changed – it’s not like he became some super-liberal on the day everyone suddenly decided that Republican was the new party of choice. Never mind the fact that his representation had literally changed the lives of people living in that district and had supported an entire generation of small business owners.
Overnight, the little R beside a candidate’s name meant more than all of that.
There are those who will attempt to explain this away by pointing to Bedford’s alleged misdeeds, such as the time he was accused of using taxpayer dollars to get a water line run to his hunting cabin or the state’s failed prosecution of him for allegedly forcing a county commission to buy property from his friend or the $1.5 million football facility for which he procured state funding.
But voters knew of all of it the last several times they sent Bedford back to Montgomery. And all of it pales in comparison to the doctor elected in his place, who, in one of his first acts in office, attempted to repeal a law named for a woman who died in his care. Then Stutts attempted to repeal a law close to Bedford’s heart – a law that required doctors to inform women of dense breast tissue on mammograms. Bedford had sponsored the law after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
That’s what the people in Senate District 6 chose.
Not a single working person in that district is better off with Stutts. Especially not the public school employees and teachers, as Stutts pushes a massive “school choice” bill that will suck hundreds of millions out of their schools in a district where membership in the teachers union used to be a source of pride. Especially not the thousands of construction workers, road builders, heavy equipment operators or their families, all now represented by a man who has opposed every infrastructure bill. Especially not those who can barely afford healthcare, as they’ve moved from a compassionate public servant who prioritized fully funding Medicaid and its expansion to a self-serving elitist who has opposed expansion and tried to kill medical marijuana legalization.
This is the problem with Alabama politics. We have, for far too long, worried about party designation and far too little about the actual job of serving the public.
Love him or hate him, Roger Bedford knew better than anyone how to serve the people of his district. And I suspect, even if they won’t admit it, that 10 years later the people of his district know that better than anyone.